One Woman’s Story Of Overcoming Menstrual Exclusion
I faintly heard the doorbell ring and simultaneously glanced at the wall clock. It is 1.15 pm. Time travels really slowly in these long summer days but today was particularly swift. Understandable, though. I was saved from my regular complementary service to the old ladies of the society and hence, by preference, spent lazy time cooking for my family. It had almost become a daily routine to accompany the old ladies to the temple, listening to their ‘fruitful’ conversations and learning some new recipes. Well, what else could a housewife do to while away her time?
Today was different though. I knew the date was near and the usual cramps last night compelled me to call Vasudha Aunty to continue to the temple sans me. I was interrupted in my thoughts as I heard a persistent ringing of the doorbell. I obviously knew who it was. I rushed to the door and saw a pouty-faced Riya standing at the doorway. I smiled apologetically and opened my arms wide; Riya immediately erased the frown lines off her face and imitated me. We did our airplane crashing step and she climbed into my arms. No amount of money or luxury could replace the joy of becoming a mother, and for that I thanked God every day. Riya came into my world 11 years ago, and since then I have practically devoted all of my time to ensure that she has a good future. From sending her to a good school, to making her participate in all activities, I have made sure that she never has a reason to regret anything. As I served lunch, I observed that she looked a bit off today, probably confused. Before I could ask her what the matter was, she blurted out, “Mummy, Anisha was bleeding at school today!”
Unable to decipher her odd expression, I asked “Did she fall down or something?” To this, Riya replied “Oh no mummy, she wasn’t hurt, her skirt was red. Prachi then told me that she had just gotten her periods. Initially, I was so scared, but later Prachi consoled me and told me that every girl got it. Is it true mummy? I still think Prachi is lying….”
I did not hear anything more. I suddenly drifted 21 years back in time. I was 15 then. It was an early Sunday morning. I was pretty excited the previous night, since my father had decided that the next day we were going to go on a picnic by the new dam. Sunday morning descended with a sharp, persistent pain in my lower abdomen. I assumed it to be the samosa I ate last evening. As soon as I entered the washroom, I saw blood stains on my pyjamas. I had no idea what this was. I had heard something related to this, one morning at school. That too in hushed voices. Unable to decide my next course of action, I hesitantly peeked out and shouted for my mother. My mother worriedly rushed to the washroom and when she saw what the matter was, uttered a quick prayer or something like that. She grabbed two napkins from the cabinet, folded them in a unique fashion and instructed me on how to wear it.It was then that I was first introduced to the concept of menstruation. Much to my family’s dismay, we dropped the picnic plan and my mother stayed in my room that day. I clearly remember what I was told that day. I was strictly told not to enter the kitchen or visit the temple during these days. Much to my horror, my mother called in the relative aunties that I despised, and asked them to orient me about my new ‘condition’.In the beginning, I found it amusing, but it soon turned into a nightmare, as the number of instructions and precautions increased. The natural drill was supposed to be simple. A girl starts her periods. Mother explains to her what menstruation exactly is, medically. She then teaches her to use sanitary napkins. Period (pun intended).
It wasn’t so simple here.
Aunty 1: “You know, beta when I first began my periods, I was given a separate ‘impure’ room. I wasn’t allowed to leave it except for going to the washroom.” Well, how did she say that with a straight face, I had wondered back then!
Random cousin 1: “Listen, bhabhi do not allow her to touch any food item except the food she is eating. This is a strict rule, lest the gods be angered.” Well, what the hell,was my first silent reaction!
Random cousin 2: “It is really unfortunate that she studies in a co-ed school. I wasn’t even allowed to look at boys.” This statement had officially made me stare at her like she had grown two heads.
Instead of providing the medical details that simplify this overly – hyped tabooed concept, I was given some pretty unique knowledge! It was quite later in my life, when I was exposed to the medical understanding of menstruation in my higher studies, that I understood the actual meaning of it. I realized how shallow these myths were, and how wrongly things were practiced in my house. But culture changes a lot of things. Both my parents were fiercely cultural and god – fearing. Owing to their nature, I too was treading the same path, despite knowing that all of it was useless or unreasonable. Although I did not follow most of these stupid rules, there were some like the no – temple rule and others, which I abide by.
I was forced back into reality. I heard my daughter whining about my sudden silence. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the exact moment that demanded a very important decision. This moment urged me to ask myself: “What should I tell her? What should I not tell her? Should I orient her about the rules? Are those rules even true?”
My head was spinning. It was filled with those aunties’ faces hovering over me and giving me instructions. And then I looked at my daughter. I looked at her and thought: if the very god who I am prohibited from visiting during my periods had not given them to me, how would I have had Riya? How would I have experienced the gifts of motherhood? And the smile on my child’s face? If God had actually deemed my periods to be impure, he would not have given them to me in the first place. And in that moment I felt proud, probably for the first time in my life,regarding my periods. I felt proud in my ability to create human beings. I understood that whatever answer I was going to give to my child today would continue down my lineage. And that is when I made my decision. I knew that my child and all her future generations would be set free from the stupid shackles that society creates against periods.
After the knowledge session Riya and I shared and went through, I picked up the phone and called a number.
“Hello, yes Vasudha aunty. Oh I am fine! I will join you people from tomorrow! Temples await me!”
Author: Saumya Shrivastava
Saumya is 2nd year Btech. student at NIT, Surat. She loves to write and voice her opinion against subjects which are seen as a taboo in India like sex education or menstruation. Writing about such issues is her way to bring positive reform in the society.
Editor: Divya Rosaline4